25/06/07 Launch of the Book: “Travellers’ Last Rights”

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
 Dublin, 25th June 2007
The Parish of the Travelling People is one of the hidden treasures of the pastoral services provided by the Archdiocese of Dublin.  It is something of which the Archdiocese can be rightly proud.  Established twenty seven years ago by my predecessor Archbishop Dermot Ryan, it is something which is unique in Ireland and indeed around the world.
I am grateful to the people of the Archdiocese of Dublin who through Share, the Diocesan Development Fund, have assured the financing of the parish over these past twenty-seven years.  I am grateful to the Vincentian Fathers for their dedication in administering this parish.
The Parish of the Travelling People has responded to and continues to respond to a wide variety of pastoral needs of the traveller community.  I am pleased to be able to renew my own personal commitment to supporting the parish and to assure that a priest of the Archdiocese, Father Derek Farrell, will soon take over as new parish priest.   I am delighted to see that many of the pastoral services in the parish are provided, or have been provided, by men and women of the travelling community. A new Parish Pastoral Council is up and running and is composed primarily of representatives of the travelling community themselves.
The Parish, along with Crosscare, the diocesan social services agency, sees as part of its pastoral outreach being involved in a wide range of services and projects which look at the particular social and educational needs of travellers.  This book is a product of the quality of that pastoral care and attention to the special needs of travellers that is typical of the Parish.
The research in this book springs in the first place from a day to day closeness with the travelling community by those charged with pastoral care.  It springs from witnessing the tears and sharing the grief of families during illness and at funerals.  It is the grief of a community where disadvantage sadly touches so many aspects of their lives.  Anyone reading this book will be moved to sadness, and indeed even to anger, to see just how deep that disadvantage reaches into the most fundamental elements of human dignity, questions of life and death.  The figures are stark and they are there for all to see. 
In the biblical tradition, longevity is a gift of God.  One can truly say that God has gifted the generations of our times with the gift of longevity and opened up challenges and rewards which our grandparents never had.  People live longer today and they have the joy of seeing their own children and their children’s children grow up healthier, happier and with greater opportunity.
This is a joy which eludes the traveller community.   Figures which show that five out of ten people die before their 39th birthday are figures of a third-world country rather those of a prosperous Ireland.
I have a feeling that Ireland’s new-found prosperity has if anything dimmed our awareness of the situation of the travelling community.  Investments have been made, policies outlined and progress achieved and success stories can be told. That is what we like to hear about. But the facts presented today indicate that this is not the only side of the story and that travellers continue to be among the most disadvantaged groups in our society.   Sadly the cause of the mortality rates recorded in this book are all causes which can be addressed and the book contains recommendations which deserve attention. 
The fight against poverty and extreme poverty in particular is rightly spoken of as a battle.  But just knowing that you have the means needed to win does not ensure victory in any battle.   Winning a battle requires the means but also effective strategies. 
The fight against poverty will only be won when there is focus on the specifics.  In theological terms we talk of a preferential option for the poor.  It is a term which refers to the action of God who through the history of salvation has addressed his care in a special way towards the poor.   Social policy requires a similar principle, which focuses of the special causes of disadvantage of any group and addresses them strategically.  Trickle down social-policies tend to trickle away from the direction of the most disadvantaged.
That theological term of a preferential option for the poor is also sometimes referred to as a preferential love of the poor.  Every page of this book is marked not just by the quality of its research but also of the love and real affection for the traveller community which its authors show and which is the real characteristic of the Parish of the Travelling Community. 
May the Parish of the Travelling Community continue to be a beacon of Christ’s love for our brothers and sisters and friends of the travelling community for the years to come.  May our society reawaken its awareness of the needs of the travelling community and respond with focus and generosity.